238. Winged Victory

July 2, 2021

In July of 1715, a fleet of 11 Spanish ships and one French frigate set sail for Spain, overloaded with passengers, goods, livestock — and tons of silver, gold and other riches. Less than 400 miles out of the port of Havana, a raging hurricane hit the eastern coast of Florida, sending all but the French ship to the bottom. 

CLICK to read the full article from the July issue of Vero Beach Magazine:


237. Crowning Achievement

May 30, 2021

An 8-page article about the last small commercial pineapple farm in the continental U.S., plus the history of pineapples in Florida and around the world. CLICK HERE to read (from the June 2021 issue of Vero Beach Magazine).


236. Mouse Calendar 2021

December 28, 2020

This year’s calendar focuses on an issue from the past year (hint: virus). But for the first time ever, you get three choices: a looking-back version, a looking-forward version, or  — maybe you’ve had enough of all this — neither!

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Looking Back:
• Desktop size: CLICK to preview & download
• Refrigerator size: CLICK to preview & download

Looking Forward:
• Desktop size: CLICK to preview & download
• Refrigerator size: CLICK to preview & download

Neither:
• CLICK on nothing


234. Others

April 26, 2020

Kids draw what they know — themselves, their family, maybe a house with the sun shining above it. When it comes to drawing people, boys mostly draw boys and girls mostly draw girls. That goes for race as well. There are exceptions, of course, but the basic idea is that children’s drawings reflect who they are and the world around them.

When I became a professional illustrator, I got a crash course in moving beyond that. It came in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I started getting a lot of work drawing illustrations for grade school textbooks.

Right around that time, the major publishers had developed a new editorial approach. It required the content of their books to include a broad mix of people — all races, sexes, body types, hair styles, ages, physical abilities, and so on. Also, professional stereotypes were out the window. A black man could be a professor, a Hispanic woman could be a doctor, a white man could be a nurse. The goal: to have every kid represented in the books and to present any profession as a possibility to anyone.

There weren’t quotas. Each illustrator just had to remember to mix it up. If you hadn’t drawn an American Indian girl in a while, draw one. About the only rule was to avoid exaggerated features than reinforced racial stereotypes. On the flip side, you didn’t want to draw the same face over and over, just coloring it a different shade of brown or peach.

Work would be assigned in batches, like 20, 50, or 100 illustrations at a time. The repetitiveness of the work made that “mix-it-up mindset” stick, and it crossed over into my other work. Illustration assignments outside of textbooks wouldn’t often specify race or sex. So I consciously varied it on my own.

crop-saraI remember one gratifying moment about 10 years later, when the approach paid off. I was talking to a high school art class about being an illustrator, and I’d brought along six of my illustrated maze books to show as examples.

At the end of my talk, a girl came up to me and asked, “I bet you don’t draw any women characters?” It was the kind of “gotcha” moment I’d heard of, because a lot of media at the time wasn’t very inclusive. But she didn’t get the answer she expected.

I opened Mastermind Mazes and showed her the main character, a woman scientist named Sara Bellum. Next to her was her male assistant, Sir Rebral. The girl was surprised, but even more so when I opened another book, Double-Cross Mazes. The main character in that one was Avery Waverly, an African-American TV host. The girl who’d asked me was also African-American. 

crop-avertThanks to the experience of working for the textbook publishers, I wasn’t guilty of what she expected. And I’d like to think it offered that girl a ray of hope that she wasn’t always going to be ignored as a woman or as an African-American. I don’t really know because she didn’t say another word. I got the feeling she’d asked that question before, but it was the first time she’d gotten that response.

The fact is, we’re a very diverse country. It’s nice when we can accept and embrace that — and not just in the media. It’s even more important in our personal interactions and in public forums, because … we’re all here bobbing about in the same boat.


233. Mouse Calendar 2020

December 31, 2019

Tens of people look forward to my mouse calendar each year. If you’re here to download the 2020 installment, count yourself among the discerning few.

As with last year’s effort, I aimed to keep the rodent infestation from getting out of hand (it takes less time to draw). Hence, the mouse count is below my 30-something-year average … although with a count of 22, it doubles last year’s puny total!

Without further ado, here are the PDFs of this year’s mousterpiece:

Compact size: DOWNLOAD PDF
Placemat size: DOWNLOAD PDF

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232. Mouse Calendar 2019

January 6, 2019

The mouse calendar tradition continues, this year setting a record for the fewest number of mice ever: 11. That’s not even one mouse per month.

Feel free to download and print this useful item in either refrigerator and bread box size. As always, it’s color-free to spare your printer.

Refrigerator size: DOWNLOAD PDF
Bread box size: DOWNLOAD PDF

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231. Mouse Calendar 2018

January 1, 2018

• LARGE format PDF: DOWNLOAD
• SMALL format PDF: DOWNLOAD

2018calendarPREVIEW


Orts!

October 20, 2016

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Check out Patrick Merrell’s new website, ORTS, a collection of new, never-used, and repurposed material from his 38 years as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and puzzlemaker.

You’ll find a new post every day Monday through Friday, plus interesting tidbits in the sidebar column, Orts Shorts.


230. A Piece of Cake Crosswords

October 20, 2016

Patrick Blindauer, fellow Patrick and crossword constructor, is offering up a great new Kickstarter project. Watch his video and read all the details HERE. But hurry — there are only a few days left to make it happen!

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227. PDF Puzzlers

October 19, 2015

PunchlineFrontCoverAHAfrontcoverTo celebrate 35 years of professional puzzlemaking, I’ve put together PDF versions of two books I created in 2005 (for St. Martin’s Press and Random House). Punchline Puzzles contains 50 crosswords with an original cartoon in the center of each grid. AHA! is 125 pages of “clever crossword clue” puzzles. $10 each, both for $18. CLICK HERE for more info and to download samples.


225. MEmoRiaL

October 4, 2015

merlmemorialA memorial for crossword-constructing legend Merl Reagle took place on September 27th in Tampa, Florida. About 125 people attended.

It was a beautiful setting in a large room on the top floor of the Vaughn Center at the University of Tampa. Twenty-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows along two walls provided sweeping views of the surrounding area … as much as you could see given the rainy weather, which was torrential at times.

People mingled from 5:00 to 6:00, munching on hors d’oeuvres while Liz Hollister and John Minor played guitar and sang songs in the background. A slide show of Merl tidbits played in a continuous loop on a large screen at the front of the hall. From 7:00 until 9:00, a fittingly eclectic mix of friends shared reminiscences about Merl. There were many laughs and a few tears.

roomRobert Miles, an international keynote speaker, served as master of ceremonies. Six others followed: Al Scudieri, a former FBI special agent; Jeffrey Walters, whose wife Merl had made a special puzzle for; Vic Fleming, a district judge and crossword constructor; Patrick Creadon, the director of Wordplay; myself, with a notebook filled with 400 writings collected from the crossword community; and Bill Duryea, an editor at politico.com. Marie Haley finished things up with some poignant thoughts.

About a dozen of us, including Marie, had dinner together afterwards at a nearby hotel, Le Méridien, telling more stories. Toward the end, Judge Vic pulled out his guitar and serenaded us into the night with a rendition of “If You Don’t Come Across.”

A video of the speeches, taken by Nancy Shack, can be seen HERE.


224. Mad People

September 29, 2015

In this week’s People magazine, I’ve got a crossword puzzle with a “star of Everest” as its theme. I’ll have additional puzzles appearing every three weeks.

In the October issue of MAD magazine, I’ve got a Donald Trump poem (a sound bite-friendly four lines long). I also put together many of the articles, as part of a summer stint working there, and managed to sneak one of my mice onto a page. Can you find it?

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223. Zep Winners

September 14, 2015

ZEP PRIZES have been randomly awarded to seven of the correct puzzle solvers.

And the winners are …
• Amy Goldstein & Mike Shenk: (A) Lincoln Zephyr ads
• Erin Rhode: (B) Zephyr bowling shirt
• Richard Pardoe: (C) Zephyr train brochure
1st PLACE • Steve Williams: (D) Zephyr lettering set
• Joe Miller (E substitution): two Zep books
• Andy, Iris & Stella Keller: (F) Yma Sumac record
• Jonathan McCue: (G) sumac berries + print

The five remaining correct solvers will each get a bonus copy of the book.


222. Zephyr X. Weber now has his own blog …

April 17, 2015

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Just click on the image above to check it out.


221. Uh…Oh!

April 16, 2015

uhohI’ve wanted to tackle the subject of creativity for a long time, and now I have. On April 15, I launched a new blog called Uh…Oh!

Creativity isn’t a magical skill bestowed upon a select few at birth. It’s an ability everyone possesses.

Uh…Oh! will explore how creativity works and how to tap into it. It will delve into topics such as the importance of perseverance, the myth of brainstorming, the unconscious, mood, the days of yore when muses ruled the creative universe, the androgynous outlook, brain research, psychology, art, science, and who knows what else. It’s a fascinating field with many intriguing avenues to explore.

In addition, you’ll find interviews, profiles, videos, guest columns, brainteasers to strengthen your creative wiring, and lots of original and vintage images.

The quick address for getting there: http://uhoh.xyz